TITLE: Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
STARRING: William Shatner, Christopher Lloyd, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei
DIRECTOR: Leonard Nimoy
WRITER: Harve Bennett
STUDIOS: Paramount Pictures
RUN-TIME: 105 min
RELEASED: June 1, 1984
By Rob Siebert
I’m in awe that Leonard Nimoy directed not only this movie, but the next one as well. Can you imagine that kind of thing happening today? Say they put Mark Hamill in the director’s chair for a Star Wars movie. Or Tobey Maguire in charge of a Spider-Man flick. They’d be hounded by toxic fans to the point of never wanting to touch the franchise ever again.
Fresh off the events of Star Trek II, Star Trek III brings us the revelation that Spock’s “living spirit” is in limbo, and has found a home in the mind of Bones. Thus, Kirk and the crew set out for Genesis to reunite Spock’s spirit with his body. But they do so against the will of the Federation, and must steal the now decommissioned Enterprise. All the while, the Genesis project has caught the attention of the Klingons, who want its power as their own.
A lot happens in Star Trek III. Like, a lot. Even when you set aside the fact that they’re trying to friggin’ resurrect the dead. Kirk’s son dies. The Enterprise blows up. We have all these big emotional moments between characters as they risk their lives and careers to save Spock. On paper, this movie is just as epic and impactful as The Wrath of Khan. If not more so.
So why is it strictly okay? Why doesn’t it hold up as a successor to The Wrath of Khan?
For my money, it’s the old “10 pounds of stuff in a five pound bag” metaphor. There’s so much going on that these big moments don’t necessarily have the impact they need and deserve. Chief among them is what happens to Kirk’s son David, who we met in The Wrath of Khan. The villain kills him off during the second half of the movie. Naturally, Kirk is grief-stricken. The Search For Spock does it’s best to give it proper weight. But in trying to wrap up all the film’s plot threads, there isn’t enough time. Yes, Kirk is distraught about his son. But this is the death of his child. He should be absolutely destroyed to the point that he needs the entire movie to bring himself to suit back up.
Furthermore, Star Trek III robs the premise of Kirk having a long-lost son of any story potential it may have had. How do father and son adjust to this new connection? What role do they play in each other’s lives? Does David become a liability for Kirk in the field? Granted, David wasn’t the most compelling character in the world. But Star Trek III removes the opportunity to make him compelling.
David’s death might have been more impactful had it come at the hands of a more interesting villain. Kruge, the lead Klingon, comes off as a hollow mustache-twirler. Yes, Christopher Lloyd is fun. But he’s also campy. That’s not what you want to follow The Wrath of Khan with.
Still, the movie isn’t without its fun elements. I love that Spock’s living spirit ended up with Bones. If anything, that should have been explored more. Actually, in hindsight, that should have been an episode of the series. It’s a fantastic way to not only contrast Spock and Bones, but give them insight into one another.
Star Trek III also continues something started in Star Trek II that I find very important: It emphasizes that these people are friends. Not just Kirk, Spock, and Bones, but the entire crew. That’s why they’re willing to risk their careers to steal the Enterprise and go after Spock.
I wish they could have had more fun with the stealing of the Enterprise. Sort of like a mini heist movie within the movie. Have Kirk, Spock, and Chekov do the grunt work while Scotty and Uhura work remotely. A Star Trek heist movie could have been fun, and a good way to make this story a very different animal from The Wrath of Khan.
But alas, Star Trek III feels like a younger sibling trying to live up to an older sibling’s achievements. It pales in comparison, of course. In hindsight, I wish Nimoy had been given a better script for his directorial debut. Thankfully he’d get another chance with Star Trek IV…
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